Handful of teams could take title
With Nebraska-Omaha out of picture, DII crown is up for grabs
Since the Republican party started its search for a presidential candidate for 2012, the leader of the pack has changed almost weekly.
When wrestling commences at the 2012 Division II Championship in Pueblo, Colo., March 9-10, the leader of the pack may change from match-to-match. Winner of the last three DII championships, Nebraska-Omaha no longer has a wrestling program.
The list of candidates for 2012 is long -- 12 programs will bring at least six wrestlers to Pueblo.
“There might be seven or eight teams who have a chance to win a championship this year,” St. Cloud State head coach Steve Costanzo said back in November.
He would agree little has changed.
St. Cloud State – Costanzo’s Huskies finished the regular season unbeaten in duals (21-0) and outdistanced Upper Iowa and Augustana (S.D.) to claim top honors in Super Regional III. A year ago, SCSU finished second at the DII Championships behind Nebraska-Omaha and will be tough to beat in Pueblo. Senior 165-pounder Tad Merritt (33-2) is a three-time All-American; Shamus O’Grady, a 174-pounder, is a two-time All-American; junior heavyweight Jake Kahnke (33-2) is a two-time All-American, including finishing second in 2011. Kahnke was upset in the Super Regional quarterfinals but came back to take third. There is a possibility of Kahnke and Newberry’s Jake Elkins meeting in the quarterfinals, providing a Friday night match with major team race implications.
Andy Pokorny (19-6 at 133 pounds), Jacob Horn (17-7 at 149), Derek Skala (27-3 at 184) and Lucas Munkelwitz (25-5 at 197) are also All-America candidates.
SCSU is the frontrunner, evidenced by seven qualifiers with all seven possible All-Americans.
Nebraska-Kearney – The Lopers are no stranger to championships, winning the Division II title in 2008. Head coach Marc Bauer will travel a few hours to the west with a strong contingent that includes eight wrestlers. Senior 157-pounder TJ Hepburn (32-3) is a championship contender again after two All-America seasons, as is Dalton Jensen (26-4 at 141). Both were NCAA finalists in 2011. The Super Regional IV champions also have major point scorers in 149-pound junior Raufeon Stots (12-3) and seniors Joey Wilson (26-8 at 165) and Ross Brunkhardt (16-6 at 184). Rookie heavyweight Kevin Barrett is 28-6 entering his first DII national tournament.
Central Oklahoma – Veteran head coach David James earned his 350th dual victory during the regular season and will bring nine qualifiers to Pueblo. The Bronchos had just one Super Regional champion, 149-pounder Ky Corley, but eight others finished inside the top four for UCO’s first Super Regional title since 2008. Casey Rowell (27-10 at 141), Kelly Henderson (18-10 at 174) and Tanner Keck (24-8 at 184) each lost final bouts. Henderson was an All-American in 2011, along with Cory Dauphin, who also qualified to head to Pueblo.
UCO has won seven Division II team titles, the last coming in 2007. The Bronchos will be in the mix, no doubt.
Upper Iowa – The Peacocks battled St. Cloud State at the Super Region III qualifier, finishing second and qualifying six for the Championships. Junior 133-pounder Trevor Franklin (24-0) moved his win streak to 40 with his third Super Regional title. He was a national champion in 2011. All-American Mitch Schultz (23-8 at 184), Winston Robbins (28-8 at 157) and Blake Sorenson (20-10 at 165) each lost in a Super Regional final. Senior 197-pounder Zach Rosol (22-7 at 285) is also a possible top-eight finisher. The Peacocks lost one of their big guns last weekend when 197-pounder Carl Broghammer (28-9) finished fifth and did not qualify.
UIU will need all six on deck to compete for a team championship.
Augustana (S.D.) – A magical first day in 2011 put the Vikings in position to compete for a championship. However, Nebraska-Omaha proved too much and Augustana eventually finished third. Head coach Jason Reitmeyer will take seven to Pueblo led by All-American Nate Herda (21-2 at 149), who finished third at nationals a year ago. Jason Jeremiason (17-3 at 133) was also an All-American in 2011, falling to Franklin in the Super Regional final. Senior 174-pounder Carl Serck (25-3) makes his first NCAA tournament appearance.
Like UIU, Augustana lost a big point-getter when senior Marcus Edgington (22-4 at 157) was injured at the Super Regional and did not place.
Augustana has finished in the top three in each of the last two Championships, including second in 2010. With a good tournament, it could improve on that standing in 2012.
Newberry – The Wolves won a fifth consecutive Super Regional title, outdistancing Pittsburgh-Johnstown by 30.5 points, qualifying seven wrestlers for nationals in the process. BJ Young, Travis Sheehy and Jake Elkins each wrestled to Super Regional titles. Young (33-9 at 141 pounds) was an NCAA runner-up at 133 pounds as a freshman. Sheehy (34-9 at 174) is a Division I transfer, while Elkins, a senior, is 23-5 and was an All-American in 2011.
The Wolves will not have the services of Deral Brown (149) and Sean Byrnes (165) -- both ranked inside the top 10 for much of the season -- who failed to qualify.
The boys from South Carolina will be in the hunt, again. An early round upset could help the Wolves’ cause.
Pittsburgh-Johnstown – Veteran head coach Pat Pecora, who is in his 36th season, takes seven wrestlers to Pueblo after a runner-up showing at the Super Regional. The 1996 and 1999 Division II champions will have a strong contingent led by Zach Lundgren (27-5 at 157 pounds), Nathan Link (19-6 at 149), Gary Lantz (18-5 at 184), Jack Bachman (19-8 at 141), Dave Fogle (19-8 at 125) and freshman Travis McKilop (19-6 at 174). Lantz had to win a challenge match for fourth to advance to the national meet.
The Mountain Cats certainly enter the Championships under the radar, but with seven wrestlers in the tournament, an upset here or there and UPJ could find itself in the title fight.
Ashland – Eight Eagle wrestlers qualified, led by 2011 All-American heavyweight Jacob Southwick (23-5). 125-pounder Brandon Davis (26-10 at 125) was an NCAA qualifier in 2010, while Dan Genetin (18-11 at 157) earned his third trip to the big show. Two freshmen -- Bryson Hall (24-10 at 174) and Joe Brandt (22-11 at 197) -- will also be in Pueblo.
The Eagles should improve on a 20th-place showing in 2011. But do they have enough to challenge in 2012?
Grand Canyon – Three Grand Canyon wrestlers earned Super Regional titles and six qualified for the short drive north from Arizona. Two-time All-American Victor Carazo (25-1 at 174 pounds), Division I transfer Bobby Ward (33-6 at 149) and Celic Ball (24-4 at197) were all champions, with Ball beating Adams State’s Luke McPeek in the Super Regional final. Ted Bristol (17-11), an All-American in 2011, will also be in Pueblo.
Adams State – Perhaps the top contender from the host state of Colorado, Adams State will be represented by six individuals. Jerry Huff (21-2 at 125 pounds) and Ryan Fillingame (24-5 at 133) won Super Regional titles. Luke McPeek (22-4 at 197) was an All-American in 2011 and 2009. He was upset in the Super Regional final this year. Max Ortega (16-8 at 141), a Division I transfer, and Josh Hensley (18-9 at 149) are potential All-Americans.
Findlay – Ben Sergent (31-9 at 125) and Michael Lybarger (26-7 at 174) lead Findlay’s contingent of six. Lybarger was the national champion at 165 pounds in 2011. The Roughnecks can be in contention but will need plenty of help and for all six to wrestle well above their seeds.
Fort Hays State – Like Findlay, FHSU will need some crazy things to happen. Three Tigers were second at Super Regionals -- heavyweight Justin Glenn (20-7), 184-pounder Walker Clarke (18-3) and 141-pounder CJ Napier (13-3).
Nothing is out of the question this time of year.